As a late bloomer, I avoided the dreaded teen acne that many of my peers agonized over. “Proactiv” and “benzoyl peroxide” were among the many zit-blasting buzz words at the time — but poor little me was still worried about whether or not my boobs would ever come in. To all the ladies who stood in front of their mirror chanting “I must, I must, I must increase my bust…” I feel you. I was there.
One day they magically appeared out of nowhere shortly after starting college…but that’s a different topic for another day.
Breakouts! They’re annoying, persistent and hard to combat. Ironically, breakouts didn’t start for me until my early Twenties. And in the years since, I have tried literally EVERYTHING to combat them. Birth Control pills, topical prescriptions, organic skincare products…
The problem is — and I think I fall into a normal category of people who don’t always have bad skin, but are more prone to breakouts during times of stress/hormone imbalance/dietary aversion — many products treat the breakout but not the cause. Not to mention, they dry out your skin. To end the breakout cycle, you have to understand the source. And that takes a little more investigation, effort and commitment.
When I changed my diet, I quickly saw positive results with skin pigmentation, developing a more natural “glow.” It was refreshing to look as healthy as I felt. But the breakouts didn’t stop. They’d disappear during “clean eating” weeks, in which I’d only consume whole foods, no dairy, alcohol, etc., but return as soon as anything outside of the “clean” category was reintroduced (usually during a “cheat” meal/weekend).
It started to become apparent that the so-called “hormonal breakouts” I have suffered from for years are directly related to my diet. And this is the case for many adults who experience mild to severe breakouts.
An elimination diet is a great holistic way to determine food aversions, though I think an allergy test is the best process of elimination one can explore. Additionally, incorporating more inflammation-reducing foods into your diet and cutting back and foods that cause inflammation is a natural approach to combatting adult acne/breakouts. But the benefits don’t stop there.
So what foods cause inflammation? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s explore what these foods do to our body and how our body responds. Inflammatory foods trigger our body’s alarm system that an insidious presence has entered it. This inflammatory response has been linked to chronic conditions like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and obesity. Low grade inflammation is a factor in most health issues. And if you suffer from a pain disorder, it is likely that inflammatory foods will aggravate the condition.
Here are the top inflammation-causing foods that you should aim to reduce/eliminate (where possible) in your diet, and inflammation-reducing alternatives to replace them with (as always, I’m in the camp of “eat this, not that,” rather than omitting things outright):
1. Processed, packaged and prepared foods. Fast food is at the top of the list of inflammatory foods thanks to the harmful oils, sugar and artificial sweeteners, food additives, and a whole host of unnatural ingredients. Eat this instead: Snacks containing flax seeds, whole grains, protein, fiber and healthy fats — they’ll typically have a shorter shelf life but help elongate your blood sugar curve, keep you full longer, and also reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
2. Saturated Fats. But Burgers, pizza, candy, chips are so good…while we have just about absolved saturated fats of their connection to heart disease, several studies have connected saturated fats with triggering white adipose tissue (fat tissue) inflammation. This white tissue is the type of fat that stores energy, rather than burn energy (like brown fat cells do). As your fat cells get bigger with a higher intake of saturated fats, they actually release pro-inflammatory agents that promote systemic inflammation, according to a review in the journal Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy. Eat this instead: cauliflower crust pizza with goat cheese or cashew cheese (in place of cow milk cheese), olive oil in place of vegetable oil, baked sweet potato chips in place of potato chips, sugar-free fudge in place of candy (recipe for my coconut oil and protein freezer fudge will be posted soon!)
3. Meat (not wild-caught fish). I’m not suggesting that you go vegan or vegetarian here — although a plant-based diet tends to be much lower in inflammatory substances — but meat and poultry tend to cause inflammation. When purchasing grass-fed meat from a grocery store or butcher, get confirmation that the meat is hormone and antibiotic-free and is grass fed AND finished (in other words, the animal was fed grass throughout their entire life, not fattened up with grain at the end). Eat this instead: fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines; nuts like almonds, peanuts and cashews; seeds like hemp and flax.
4. Fried foods (French fries, onion rings, potato chips, nachos, hamburgers, etc.). These items speak for themselves. Eat this instead: Baked Sweet Potato with olive oil, himalayan salt and pepper — Pre-heat oven to 350. Line pan with baking sheet. Lay out Sweet potato (cut in desired shape — I like round), coat both sides with olive oil, himalayan salt and pepper and bake for 12 1/2 minutes each side. So good!
5. White sugar and sweets, including soft drinks and sweetened juices. According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can’t process quickly enough can increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells’ germ-killing ability, weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to infectious diseases. Eat this instead: Replace harmful high-glycemic foods (which spike and crash blood sugar) with low GI alternatives, like whole grains and foods with healthy fats, protein, and fiber.
6. Synthetic sweeteners (Nutrasweet, Splenda, saccharin, aspartame, AminoSweet, etc.) — Many studies have revealed that artificial sweeteners enhance the risk of glucose intolerance by altering our gut microbiome, by decreasing levels of the good bacteria Bacteroides, which are known to help release anti-inflammatory compounds. Eat this instead: Stevia or fruit, such as dates, in place of sugar. Also, coconut sugar (lower GI index than table sugar) which contains iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, short chain fatty acids, and a fiber called inulin, which slows glucose absorption.
7. Iodized Salt. Not harmful on its own but sodium is naturally found alongside other valuable minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.Eat this instead: unrefined salt, such as celtic sea salt and himalayan salt, which naturally contain many minerals, not just sodium.
8. Food additives: colors, flavor enhancers, stabilizers, preservatives, etc. Some of the main culprits include sulfites, benzoates, and colors named FD&C #“X.” Unfortunately, many kid-friendly foods are loaded with these harmful, toxic ingredients. Eat this instead: Replace that morning cereal with a healthier option, such as gluten free oats (Bob’s Red Mill is a great option), millet, granola (Purely Elizabeth offers delicious flavors, all GMO and gluten free), or muesli (again, Purely Elizabeth’s is fantastic). If you’re into fun colors, check out my Instagram: @fitfabwellbychanel for colorful creations you can make with superfoods. You don’t need artificial colors to create pretty smoothie bowls even your kids will love. You just need colorful whole foods that are vitamin/nutrient-rich. Navitas Organics is a brand that offers great superfood options, in the form of powders, supplements and blends — all organic and natural.
9. Dairy products (yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, butter, cheese, etc.). This one is particularly important, and the reason you’ll notice that most of my recipes are dairy-free. I tend to cook vegan recipes, simply adding in animal protein when I want it. I’m lactose intolerant and notice the greatest skin/digestion improvements when I avoid dairy outright. While a moderate intake of greek yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healthy probiotics, most dairy contains inflammation-inducing saturated fats. 1 in 4 adults have difficulty digesting milk, whether it’s lactose intolerance or a sensitivity to its casein proteins. Either way, any type of allergen can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines (which is why an allergy test is advisable, especially if you suffer from both digestive and skin problems). Eat this instead: nut cheese alternatives (cashews are a great cheese replacement), almond, hemp, and coconut dairy alternatives in the form of mylk, yogurt and ice cream. Also, ghee in place of butter. I can’t say enough about ghee! I have it in 2 flavors. It has a high smoke point, which means you can cook/fry with it and it won’t break down into free radicals like many other oils and butter. It won’t spoil quickly (some have lasted over 100 years!), it is lactose and casein-free, rich in vitamins A and E, and rich in medium chain fatty acids, which are absorbed directly by the liver and converted into energy. I talk a lot about the benefits of training your body to use fat, not just glucose, as an energy source…the benefits of ghee abound!
10. Wheat products. Many of the breads on the market can go from flour and yeast to baked bread in just a few hours. This shortening of the period of fermentation causes a decrease in the amount of starch and gluten the yeast typically pre-digests for us. Without the aid in digestion, it can be harder for our bodies to digest the bread’s gluten, causing inflammation in the lining of our intestines. Experts believe this could be one reason for the rise in gluten sensitivity among Americans. Another theory is that modern strains of wheat contain a super starch known as amylopectin A, which has been shown to have inflammatory effects. Eat this instead: A good alternative to wheat, if you’re craving bread, is Sourdough which is a fermented food that provides healthy probiotics — key in reducing inflammation! Also, choose grains or seeds like buckwheat, quinoa, or millet for your baking in place of wheat.
12. Alcohol. While some research has shown a drink a day can actually lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP), too much alcohol actually has the opposite effect. That’s because the process of breaking down alcohol generates toxic byproducts which can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s immune system. On the other hand, the flavonoids and antioxidants found in wine — as well as the probiotics in beer — might actually contribute an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a study published in the journal Toxicology. This supports the age-old quote “everything in moderation, including moderation.”
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